(VNRN) – Dieu Cay (Điếu Cày), a blogger who has spent the last 6 years in prison serving two consecutive sentences was released Oct 21 and immediately expelled out of the country to fly to the United States, his family and the U.S. General Consulate confirmed.
A founder of the Free Journalist Club, Dieu Cay, whose real name is Nguyen Van Hai (Nguyễn Văn Hải), was arrested and sentenced in 2008 on tax evasion charges, and immediately completing that sentenced was re-sent to prison in 2012 to another 12 years under Article 88 of Vietnamese Penal Code for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic.” Dieu Cay had participate in, and reported on, anti-China protests taking place while the Beijing Olympics torch was passing through Vietnam.
With Dieu Cay’s release, the only member of the FJC still imprisoned is Ta Phong Tan (Tạ Phong Tần), a former police lieutenant and Communist Party member who wrote a blog called Justice and Truth. The third accused, Phan Thanh Hai (Phan Thanh Hải), served out his 4-year sentence, including time served before trial, in 2013.
Tan was tried together with Dieu Cay and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. In July before Tan’s trial, her mother died after setting herself on fire in protest in front of a government office.
The FJC members were charged at trial of posting 421 articles on the group’s blog between 2007 and 2010, articles that the government alleged “distort the truth and denigrate the party and state.”
“I just feel frustrated by injustice, corruption, dictatorship which does not represent the state but some individuals,” Dieu Cay told the court at his trial.
“According to Vietnamese laws, citizens have the right to freedom of speech and it is in accordance with international treaties to which Vietnam is party,” he said before the audio feed was cut off, AFP news agency reported.
Dieu Cay’s lawyer at his tax trial, attorney Le Cong Dinh, would later also be arrested in 2009 and sentenced under Article 88. Dinh was released in 2013.
In a diplomatic cable revealed by Wikileaks, the U.S. General Consulate called tax charges against Dieu Cay “spurious” and explained the founding of the Free Journalist Club:
“The FJC is a self-selected group of bloggers who met each other online two years ago when Dieu Cay (Nguyen Van Hai) posted a letter from a journalist calling on the Prime Minister to allow private media outlets in Vietnam. The ensuing on-line discussion between Cay and some like-minded bloggers led them to form the FJC, and the group started meeting regularly to discuss current events with a focus on items they felt were not fully covered in mainstream media, such as the Can Tho bridge collapse, labor strikes, Catholic land disputes in Hanoi and other issues.”
Members of FJC faced varying levels of police harassment. Some had to quit their job when police placed pressure on their employers.
Dieu Cay’s case was raised by U.S. President Barack Obama during World Free Press Day of 2012, saying, “As we condemn recent detentions of journalists like Mazen Darwish, a leading proponent of free speech in Syria, and call for their immediate release, we must not forget others like blogger Dieu Cay, whose 2008 arrest coincided with a mass crackdown on citizen journalism in Vietnam.”
Numerous international human rights organizations have also called attention to Dieu Cay’s case. Right after his trial, Amnesty International organized an Urgent Action to free Dieu Cay. Human Rights Watch condemned the trial and called for the immediate release of the three bloggers. In 2009, the group awarded Nguyen Van Hai its Hellman-Hammett Award “for writers who have suffered persecution as a result of their writings”.
In 2012, Civil Rights Defenders named him Human rights defender of the month. The following year, Dieu Cay was awarded the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. He won the 2013 One Humanity award from PEN Canada, which recognized “Dieu Cay’s courageous dissent and continued advocacy for human rights in Vietnam despite a crackdown on online writing by the authorities.”